The heist of D.B. Cooper: A history


photo via The Columbian

Thanksgiving: a time to gather family around the table, express gratitude for blessings and feast upon extravagant dishes. For many, the day before Thanksgiving is dedicated to travel for the celebration.


This was the case for many passengers aboard Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 305 on Nov. 24, 1971. However, this was no ordinary flight. It was the infamous plane hijacked by D.B. Cooper. 


This hijacker was known only by the alias Dan Cooper. This name was on the ticket given to the flight staff. He was described by flight attendants as a white male, approximately 6 feet tall and estimated to be in his 40s.


Soon after the Portland flight was in the air, he handed a note to a flight attendant in which asserted that he had a bomb in his luggage. To prove this claim, Cooper presented the opened bag, filled with tangles of wires, red sticks and a large battery. 


Cooper demanded the modern equivalent of $1,200,000 in $20 bills and four parachutes as ransom.


Soon after this confrontation, the flight landed in Seattle, and Cooper let all 36 passengers go after authorities provided the money and parachutes. However, he forced two pilots, a flight attendant and a flight engineer to take the metallic bird back into the sky. His destination: Mexico City.


He demanded the commercial airplane fly under 10,000 feet, compared to the normal 33,000 feet, and at a speed of 200 knots (230 miles per hour). Somewhere between Seattle, Washington and Reno, Nevada, Cooper lowered the rear steps and jumped. He vanished like a ghost.


This mysterious hijacking struck the news. He was all over the television and was famously nicknamed “D.B. Cooper” after a reporter misheard the name Dan. 


The Federal Bureau of Investigation soon launched an extensive investigation. This project was called “NORJAK” due to it being a Northwestern Hijacking. 


Originally, the FBI believed Cooper was ex-military, most likely a former paratrooper. However, this theory was completely debunked, because a true veteran would know the jump was extremely dangerous. He also failed to notice his reserve parachute was sewn shut because it was meant for training, not a genuine life-or-death scenario. 


Over 800 suspects were gathered in the first five years of the investigation. Richard Floyd McCoy was a prime suspect, as he also hijacked a plane for ransom just four months after D.B. Cooper. However, McCoy did not match the descriptions provided by flight attendants. 


Some sources speculate D.B. Cooper did not survive the risky heist. 200 miles per hour winds would have battered him during his descent. Also, the parachute was not designed to be steered. Additionally, there was a dense forest below him, the trees would make it nearly impossible to land safely. 


The either devilishly clever or downright stupid thief known as D.B. Cooper was never found. Eventually, the FBI retired their pursuit, stating that their resources could be better spent elsewhere.